Focaccia with Italian Herbs

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What I love more than eating bread is baking bread. I always thought that baking bread was hard and something only professional bakers do. The idea of using yeast was completely foreign to me.

But after my first loaf, I fell in ❤ with baking bread. Sure, it takes time and practice. I continue to learn something new every time: the patience to wait through the hours of rising time (it takes me 1-2 days from start to finish sometimes), the correct way to knead, and the doughs of different types of bread. I’ve loved everything single part of it.

The first bread I made was a simple white sandwich loaf. I wasn’t able to develop the gluten and it didn’t hold it’s structure well. But through practice, I think I’ve finally kind the feel of kneading bread and “knowing” when it’s ready. Of course, it hasn’t been perfect every time, and I’m not ready to open my own bakery yet but it’s edible 🙂

DSC_0437.JPG Although making the dough is a challenge, it’s one of my favorite parts of bread baking. There’s something therapeutic about mixing flour, water/milk, sugar, and yeast together. How can you argue that shaping a shaggy mass to a smooth and elastic dough isn’t satisfying and awesome?

And can we talk about yeast magic? I love tucking my dough away in a warm place and coming back 1-2 hours later to beautiful risen dough.

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Starter after overnight rise

Finally, there’s that beautiful flour-y, yeast-y smell of raw bread dough and wonderful bakery smell of fresh bread. I know you can’t smell it through this computer, but just IMAGINE. IMAGINE. IMAGINE.

DSC_0443DSC_0446DSC_0455Sorry for the terrible photo quality. I’m still learning how to cook and take photos at the same time.

This was my first time baking focaccia and I will definitely make it again. The family loved it and asked for more, which I’m happy to do! I’ll definitely add more flavor next time. Perhaps some roasted garlic, caramelized onions, or BACON? Oh the endless possibilities.DSC_0459DSC_0461DSC_0462

I would suggest making this focaccia over two days – perfect for a weekend project. Bread baking requires patience and this one may just be a test of that!

Focaccia with Italian Seasoning

adapted from Amy’s Bread

makes one 9 x 13-inch rectangle*

  • 7/8 cup Warm water (85 to 90 degrees F)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup Biga (recipe below)
  • 2 1/4 cup Unbleached all-purpose flour**
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • Italian seasoning***
  • Additional olive oil and kosher salt, for topping
  1. Place the warm water and yeast in a large bowl. Stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast and let stand for 3 minutes.
  2. Add the big to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for 1 to 2 minutes to break it up. Mixture should be milky and foamy. Add the flour and mix with your hands, making sure the wet and dry ingredients are well incorporated. When the dough becomes a shaggy mass, move to a very lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and somewhat elastic. This took me about 10 minutes. Place dough back into bowl and cover with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes to smooth out and develop elasticity.
  3. After the resting period, add the milk, olive oil, and salt to the dough in the mixing bowl and knead in bowl until incorporated.
  4. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is very smooth, silky, and elastic. This took me about 20 minutes. The finished dough should be wet, but springy.
  5. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it over to coat with oil. Let it rise for about 1 hour at room temperature (about 77 degrees F).
  6. Turn dough in the bowl. Gently deflate dough with your fingers, fold the left side over the middle, and the right side over the middle. Fold the dough in half and turn it over so the seam is underneath. Let it rise for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until nearly doubled in volume.
  7. When the dough has risen, gently pour it onto the center of the oiled baking pan. Pat it gently with your finger tips to stretch it out to the edges of the pan. If it resists stretching, let it rest 2 to 5 minutes until it becomes supple enough to stretch. Brush lightly with olive oil and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled and fills the pan.
  8. At least 30 minutes before baking preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  9. Brush and dot the surface of the dough gently with olive oil, dimple it in several spots with fingertips to prevent air pockets from developing underneath, and flavor and moisten the dough. Sprinkle with salt and Italian seasoning all over.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until golden brown and crusty but still very soft inside.
  11. Remove the focaccia from the oven and immediately brush it lightly with olive oil. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, the carefully slide it onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper to prevent steam from softening the bottom crust. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares.

*Original recipe is for one 12 x 17-inch rectangle but that’s just too much for 4 people, so I cut the recipe in half
**Correction: it should be unbleached bread flour but I accidentally used all-purpose because I didn’t read through the recipe. Oops! It still turned out good but next time I’ll be using bread flour
***I didn’t have fresh rosemary so I used Italian seasoning

Biga Starter

makes half a small batch (7/8 cup or 7 ounces)

  • 3.5 ounces Very warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
  • 1/16 teaspoon Active dry yeast
  • 4 ounces Unbleached all-purpose flour
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the warm water and yeast and stir to dissolve. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 1 to 2 minutes until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. It will be fairly thick and stretchy. After the rise, it gets softer and more elastic. Scrape the big into a quart size container and mark the height of the starter.
  2. Let it rise at room temperature (75 to 85 degrees F) for 6 to 8 hours. Alternatively, let it rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to warm up and become active before use. It should have more than double in volume.
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